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Building Bridges Through Basketball seems to be working

The NBA, RISE and Under Armour partnership reinforces the need to bring youths and police officers together

When the NBA partnered with Ross Initiative in Sports for Equality (RISE) and Under Armour in 2017 to launch Building Bridges Through Basketball, the goal was to create a space for communities to coexist with law enforcement through sports and mentorship.

The partnership, a part of NBA Voices, is designed to help build trust and bridge gaps by hosting weekly sessions using a combination of on-court basketball training and leadership activities. The sessions focus on identity, conflict resolution, perspective, teamwork and diversity.

The program just finished its second installment in Chicago, one of three host cities along with Los Angeles and New Orleans. For Kim Miller, RISE’s vice president of leadership and education programs, this year’s session ended in success. Founded in 2015 by Miami Dolphins owner Stephen M. Ross, RISE is a nonprofit organization dedicated to using sports to improve race relations and drive social progress.

“I think, one, it’s awesome to be able to do this a second season, but have a different kind of flair to it. … It’s all about how we can use basketball as a hook, but we’re doing leadership programs as a part of that,” said Miller.

Through community basketball tournaments and basketball-based curriculum, Building Bridges features 90 minutes of on-court basketball programming led by the NBA and hands-on learning developed by RISE.

“When I talk about basketball being the hook in it, you can’t be part of the program if you’re not going to be part of the leadership piece,” Miller said. “As a part of that, we’re teaching various skills and covering topics like things on identity and diversity, so we have a whole module on just who are you and how does one define themselves. That’s really powerful when you think of, like, the young people doing that with the officers, the officers sharing their perspective on who they are, and then that conversation overall.

“This was an opportunity to celebrate their harder work over all that period of time, to do something fun as a part of the combine [the program’s court-style training module, mimicking the NBA combine]. NBA and Under Armour made it really special for them, that they actually had an opportunity to go through combine drills. The event itself was a lot of fun, but for us, that was the end to say, ‘Great job, nice work,’ and really sticking with it.”

NBA Voices, Under Armour and RISE understand that the need for a conversation between the police and the community goes beyond the Chicago market.

“There is a need to get together community and law enforcement, and in this case we’re focusing on junior high to our middle school- to high school-age kids with law enforcement to do that. But it was just a lot of fun in that way.”

According to the NBA, in New Orleans some key findings afterward included 89 percent of the students stating that they felt trusted and appreciated by police. That suggests that youths’ perceptions about how the police view them changed because of the program. Also after the program, 86 percent expressed a concern for racial equality, the same percentage who believed that racism is still a concern in the United States. All of the youths said they want to attend the program again.

“We’ve seen in the program time and time again that the youth attitudes towards the police are improving,” Miller said. “We got back some questions about trust. We’re doing these surveys pre- and post- and that really helps us.”

Kelley Evans is a digital producer at Andscape. She is a food passionista, helicopter mom and an unapologetic Southerner who spends every night with the cast of The Young and the Restless by way of her couch.